Muntri House and Muntri Mews: historical cousins

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I booked Muntri House for the heritage. The pictures online were gorgeous, and they did not lie.

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After a smooth ferry ride from Langkawi to Georgetown, I made the mistake of taking a cab that charged us 20 MYR to take us a mile to our hostel, but hey, I was tired and carrying a heavy backpack, and hadn’t looked up where the hostel was in relation to the ferry dock. Also, the guy spoke Chinese. I don’t know why that should matter.

The staff at Muntri House were very accommodating. A guy came up to help us with our bags as soon as the cab pulled up, and the old man of the family explained to Mike that it was going to rain, while Mike and I debated whether the small, swooping winged things were bats or swallows (swallows).

Because the old man’s English was limited, because Mike is obviously White, and because I wasn’t sure if they could understand Mandarin, I spoke English to the young man of the family. He checked us in and took me to see the room. Tis included a journey up the stairs, where shoes were not allowed, though they adorn the wall along the stairs.

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The room, like AB Motel, was windowless and modest in size. The walls were thin and the door was difficult to open and close. It lacked the attached bathroom, refrigerator, and powerstrip of our room at AB Motel. But it was clean and well decorated and I felt more at home in it immediately. Mike liked it too.

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And that was before we discovered that the Internet actually worked and was accessible from our own room. Of course, our noisy neighbors and having to go down the hall to use the shared bathroom dampened our comfort somewhat. Especially since leaving our shoes downstairs made it difficult to shower with shoes and one or both sinks were take up by those doing laundry.

The Muntri House is very well maintained. Someone was always sweeping or wiping in the lobby, which featured tables for breakfast and socializing in general, as well as a fountain, fish, and a caged bird.

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A tour came by at one point to show off the house, sometimes referred to the Heritage House.

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The surrounding shophouses seem just as historical though, and the sidewalks of Jalan Muntri are paved with beautiful tile.

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The real appeal of the place are the shared spaces, sans the bathroom. I went around just taking pictures. The old man seemed proud, asking me if the house was, “Beautiful?”

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It sure is. Too bad they were all booked up with Chinese tourists and we had to move the next day.

It was late by the time we went out to search for dinner, and it did, indeed start to rain, so we walked I across the street to Muntri Mews Cafe. There’s no relation, besides being on and taking the name of the street. Food was pricier than we were used to, about 20 MYR a dish, but neither of us had had a proper lunch, so we splurged on pricy drinks as well.

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Notice the napkin? Muntri Mews is 馬車房 (mǎ chē fáng), or literally “horse car room,” a stable or garage, I guess. I thought Muntri might just be the phonetic translation of mǎ chē, or the Cantonese equivalent, but it is actually someone’s name. So I guess mǎ chē fáng means mews. The road certainly seems to be filled with Chinese history.

I finally tried beehun soup, and didn’t like it any better than I usually liked vermicelli, though the soup was nice.

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Mike got Nasi goring, forgetting it was fried rice, but his dish turned out to have lots of extra goodies.

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Well, traveling wears out of willpower because of all the decisions we have to make, so I think we can be excused. Besides, the atmosphere was nice.

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W & O Cafe, Oriental Hostel: the grandfather of backpacker hostels

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Look at all that natural light. After our crepuscular rooms at the AB Motel and even Muntri House, it should do a lot of good towards resetting our circadian clocks. If only I hadn’t stayed up until nearly 4 am last night, until the dawn light was filtering in.

We moved from Muntri House down the block to the Oriental Hostel yesterday. It is not on booking.com, though it seems to be associated with Star Lodge, which is on Tripadvisor. It was also obscured by its cafe, the Western and Oriental, a clever play on the famous Eastern and Oriental Hotel (it was such that, when I googled the Western and Oriental to see if they had an attached hostel, google autocorrected for the Eastern and Oriental instead). But there is, indeed, a hostel attached to the cafe, and it seems just as historical as Muntri House, if less decorated.

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Of course, to see what period the house was built, I’ll have to check the facade, like so:

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It’s also cheaper (50 MYR/night), but that is because there is no air conditioning. Hostels do seem a bit more expensive here. It’s difficult to find one with an attached bathroom, much less a refrigerator, but all hostels an arrange for bus tickets and phone cards for you, though possibly at an inflated price. The W & O cafe is pretty pricy, relatively speaking. The only thing that is a good deal is the beer. It’s the cheapest Mike’s found so far (6 MYR), though still much more expensive than in duty-free Langkawi.

The manager told Mike the reason the beer is cheaper than at other places is that they smuggled it from duty-free Langkawi. He’s friendly and speaks good English. A lot of the boarders at the Oriental, he claims, are regulars who design websites (hence reliable wifi and desktop computers available for 2 MYR an hour) and/or are doing visa runs. In any case, there are more Western expatriates than mainland Chinese tourists. I guess that explains why they don’t feel they need to have an online presence. Also, why he has available rooms when booking.com says it’s busy in Georgetown. Also, why he let us have a triple room for the price of a double. Also, why he offers a lower rate if you stay a whole month.

It’s tempting.

Edit, Sept. 9th:

We left the Oriental hostel today. Our fellow guests were a bit too loud and the bathrooms were a bit inconvenient. Also, we’d been there nearly a week, so I didn’t mind moving so much. I liked Muntri Street, but I think it’s time to explore more of the other side of Pitt Street, even if it’s only half a mile away.

Pros: (you) can be loud, it has history (before there were hostels, in the 60s, hippies would cMp out on the floor for 50 cents), The manager is friendly and informative, the maid works hard, there is cheap beer, there is a nice common room/cafe (though besides the beer, I wouldn’t recommend anything), and things are flexible. That was the kicker. I don’t know if we would have stayed so long if hadn’t been upgraded to a triple and had to stay in an actual double.

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Cons: (other guests) can be loud, including sitar and didgeridoo players, only one shower, open roof bathroom, and otherwise in need of maintenance

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But I’d like to end on an optimistic note. I guess the hostel, which has been a hostel since before there were hostels, is like a creaky grandfather, set in his ways. But he has personality.

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